Prior to first-year coach Brett Beard’s arrival in January, Live Oak High School football had never won a playoff game, and the Eagles had only qualified for the postseason once in six years as a member of Class 5A.
A memorable run for the program ended Friday night in a 25-2 loss to John Ehret in the second round of the playoffs, but Beard and the Eagles have plenty to build on following the most promising football season in school history.
In addition to experiencing some postseason success by winning at Ouachita in the first round, Live Oak put together a 6-4 regular season that included the school’s first wins against nearby rivals Central and Denham Springs and a 3-2 mark in District 4-5A play.
“I think it’s been an amazing year,” Beard said. “You can’t tell me these kids haven’t done a phenomenal job. As a coaching staff, we really feel that we got every drop out of them that we could. It’s a good start.”
This wasn’t the first time Beard, a former Vanderbilt and Southeastern Louisiana defensive lineman, put a program on his broad shoulders and led it to an impressive turnaround in short order.
Taking over a Woodlawn High program that suffered through a 1-9 season in 2012, Beard led the Panthers to a 4-6 mark in 2013 and a trip to the 5A playoffs. Another playoff berth followed as Woodlawn won six games in Beard’s second season.
Live Oak turned to Beard after finishing 4-6 in 2014 and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The culmination of Live Oak’s breakthrough season came in the 33-28 upset of Ouachita to earn the Eagles, seeded 25th in the 5A playoffs, a home playoff game in the second round Friday night.
Live Oak’s defense was its usually stout self against Ehret, mostly holding the Patriots in check and supplying the Eagles their only points on a safety early in the third quarter.
But the offense couldn’t get going against an Ehret defense led by LSU commitment Michael Divinity at linebacker.
Live Oak managed only 51 yards of offense and had 18 plays result in negative yardage. The Eagles had just four first downs in the first half, falling behind 13-0 at the break.
Despite the loss, it was quite clear how far Live Oak has come.
“You can tell we’ve gotten better,” Beard said. “We’ve had some injuries. Offensively, we had some key injuries that caused us to sputter here at the end. But that’s no excuse. Guys have to step up and play, and I’m excited about what we have.”
Kelton seventh at state
Denham Springs senior Thomas Kelton wrapped up his decorated cross country career Nov. 18 in Natchitoches by securing his second top-10 finish at the LHSAA state meet in as many seasons.
Kelton placed seventh in the Class 5A race, following a sixth-place finish his junior year. He had a time of 16 minutes, 43.6 seconds on the muddy 3-mile course.
“I’ve always said he was a great runner, and he has a runner’s heart,” Denham Springs coach Sarah Batty said.
“He’s just the type of guy that eats, breathes and sleeps running. He had been ranked lower than what he’s capable of all season. To see him finish seventh in state, that’s what I wanted for him. That’s where he deserved to be. I’m beyond thrilled.”
Other runners from Denham to make their mark at state were sophomore Christian Mallet and freshman Ashlynn Jerome.
Mallet placed 23rd in the boys race with a time of 17:16.6 while Jerome placed 45th in the girls at 22:05.50.
The Denham boys led the parish’s 5A contingent at state in the team standings with a 21st-place finish, followed closely by 24th-place Live Oak and 25th-place Walker.
The Live Oak girls finished 23rd to lead all Livingston teams in the 5A meet.
In Class 3A, Angela McKay of Albany placed 18th with a time of 21:53.80 and teammate Sierra Joiner was 40th at 23:59.60.
The Albany boys finished ninth in the 3A team standings with Dalton Addison (19:24.90) placing 28th to lead the way.
Around the parish
The Denham Springs boys finished 14th in the Division I state swim meet last week at the SPAR Aquatic Center in Sulphur.
The Denham girls finished tied for 19th.
The annual Livingston Parish basketball tournament gets underway Dec. 8 at Live Oak High. Coaches will meet Dec. 1 to seed the teams.